TNG Synopsis/Review by Tim Lynch

WARNING: This post contains spoilers (though mostly general ones) for the fifth season of "Star Trek: the Next Generation". Those not familiar with the season and wanting to avoid spoilers should stay clear. we are again. Another season gone by, which means another season's review to write.

I'm going to change the format of this review, in several ways. Primarily, although I'll still be quickly going over each episode in turn and then averaging them, I'm going to have a long general piece afterwards, because this season (far more than most) is not at *all* expressible as the sum of its parts.

And the usual disclaimer, although it'll be obvious: the individual ratings I give here will not necessarily correspond to my original ratings. Part of the whole point of this piece is to show how opinions evolve over time, from the first impressions (i.e. the initial review) to the somewhat more sedate thoughts after another viewing or two. (Yes, I rewatched the season for this...even "Cost of Living".)

So: onwards!

Episodic: | ----------+

"Redemption II" Initial rating: 6.5.

My opinion of this one hasn't changed much. It still had a great opening 10 minutes or so, and then fell apart over the rest of the hour. Some of the strategizing is nice (Picard really does feel like someone born to eventual admiralty; he'll love having a full-time fleet to command), and some of it isn't; it's about here that the Romulans start turning into buffoons. And then, of course, there's Sela, the lifetime holder of the Slap-Em-In-The-Face-And-Call-'Em-Bruised Origins Award. Pah.

Finally, they tried to do too much here, and ended up doing too little. Both Worf's adaptation (or lack thereof) to Klingon society and Data's first command could have used entire episodes devoted to them; instead, we get them as side issues to the apparent main plot of the civil war. Sigh.

All in all, I think I'd drop this down to a 5. It had its moments, but it needed a lot more.

"Darmok" Initial rating: 9.5.

This one comes up to a full 10. The one thing that had riled me at the time (Riker's overbelligerent behavior) doesn't seem nearly so bad after I've had time to look at it further. Yes, there's a wee bit of technobabble here and there, and a couple of bits that are _marginally_ slow, but nothing nearly enough to take away from the sheer power of this very simple idea. Second best of the season.

"Ensign Ro" Initial rating: 7.

This one slips. Again, there's some nice strategizing on Picard's part (and again, he enjoys it far too much to be confined to a single ship; get this man a cosmic chessboard!), and there are also bits of very snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, much of it occurs in a vacuum, and Les Landau's direction is a bit off. This was a straightforward piece with straightforward advantages and flaws. Down to a 6.

"Silicon Avatar" Initial rating: 9.5.

This one also slips. The things I loved about it most at the time, namely the late-episode Marr and the very bleak ending, are still there and still superb (as is the Entity's initial attack; it *still* hurts to see the colony's fate after the team is rescued). Unfortunately, with the bloom off the rose, it's very difficult to reconcile the late-term Marr with the early-term Marr; it's almost two different characters. I can't quite swallow it. This is still good, but no longer top-notch. Call it an 8.5.

"Disaster" Initial rating: 2.

You *must* be kidding. I thought this was pretty damned dumb then, and I think it's pretty damned dumb now. Almost all my initial attitudes (all the kids are a waste but Marissa, for instance, and that Worf's characterization is *awful) hold up, the only exception being that Keiko's lines seem a bit funnier now. This marks the beginning, incidentally, of the "let's make Worf a laughingstock" version of Worf that seems to characterize virtually every Worf show this season. This is still a 2.

"The Game" Initial rating: 6.

This was, and still is, a very uneven piece. Lots of the dialogue is very crisp and fun, but some of it falls very flat (unfortunately, the examples just flew out of my brain heading west; if someone could catch them and send them back I'd be obliged). The idea of something insinuating itself on the ship almost insidiously is a nice one, but it gets some poor handling. (Troi playing the bimbo in Ten-Forward, for instance, and Riker playing WITH a bimbo down on Risa; yawn.) And of course, there's the fact that in bringing back Wesley for the first time in a season, the natural impetus was to put him right back in the first-season cliches that had a lot of people clamoring for the character's head on a platter back then. Still, it is a fun ride. I'll keep this as a 6.

"Unification I" Initial rating: 9.5.

The bloom is off the rose here as well, but only a little bit. Yes, this and its successor were *very* hyped; and yes, like most things that hyped, it doesn't quite live up. But despite some of the problems and slow moments this piece had (the Picard/Data amateurish conduct on Romulus, the scene with Perrin, etc.), the fact is that I felt caught up in something big, and that feeling still sits in the show. It's a 45-minute prologue, yes; but as the people I saw "Back to the Future II" with can tell you, if it's done well I can really enjoy movie-length prologues. Give it a 9.

"Unification II" Initial rating: 10.

This show's taken a pummeling from most people, and I have to admit that I still don't really understand why. There are a couple of loose leaps in the plot (most notably the jump from blowing up the mystery ship to Riker looking for a fat Ferengi in the bar), and a couple of bad scenes (I *still* have an intense dislike for Klingon opera), but it's not enough to cause any real problems. And yes, Sela's plan here is an intensely hokey plot that couldn't possibly work; and the point being? I'd knock this down to a 9, but again no further.

"A Matter of Time" Initial rating: 7.

This one also slips a bit. (That's starting to sound typical.) My basic impression of this, when all is said and done, is that it's "shallow but clever". The plot involving Rasmussen isn't the sort of thing that's going to win awards for originality or sheer ability to draw one in, but it makes for a good bag of tricks; and now and then, sitting back and watching a bag of tricks can be fun. (The plot involving the planet, and Picard's speech in particular, is definitely a bit much, however.) Frewer is good, although I do have to wonder how this show would have changed were Robin Williams to have played this part. Down to a 5.

"New Ground" Initial rating: 9.

I went back and looked at that rating right before I watched the show again, and my thought throughout was "I gave this a NINE? WHY?" Looking back, I have absolutely no idea what about this show made it that appealing back in January. I don't consider it the trash others have called it, but it's got problems. It sets up a bunch of potentially interesting conflicts, but they don't *really* go anywhere. (They go further here than later in the season, though; more on that later.) The "jeopardy" plot was...well, "harmless" seems the best word to use. This had a few nice ideas, but blew most of them in the execution. (On the other hand, by setting up "Murphy Worf" here, it would seem that TNG will no doubt soon get an angry letter from the ever-esteemed Mr. Quayle...:-) :-) ) This guy's a 4.

"Hero Worship" Initial rating: 8.5.

That rating seems about right, give or take a point. It's a solid outing; probably the only solid outing this season that centered on a child. The main reason for this, of course, was that the fellow who played Timothy was a rare find: a *really good* child actor. But beyond that, the concept of a child "imprinting" on Data was an interesting one, and one fairly well explored. Yes, the ending was a bit rushed and the science was *intensely* silly, but that's not a big problem. Hmm...yep, 8.5 seems about right.

"Violations" Initial rating: 6.5.

This one came up on a repeat viewing. I think some of my initial qualms about it may have had to do with what I'd been led to believe about its origins (I'd been led to believe a friend of mine had written it; that belief turned out to be in error, as I found out rather sharply before long), and that's no longer a factor. It's still got some problems, most notably that (1) the story could have been made *much* more ambiguous, rather than waving a giant flag saying "yo! Jev's the villain here!" back in the teaser, and (2) the sudden rekindling of romance in the Riker/Troi scene in sickbay seems to come flying out of left field. But on a repeat viewing, this actually became *spookier*, which is always a good sign. So, I'd say "Attack of the Killer Jerry Brown" [well, LOOK at him! :-) ] ends up with an 8.

"The Masterpiece Society" Initial rating: 7.5.

This is also going to end up about where it started. My main points still rang very true: Hannah was a terrific character (if a lousy depiction of a scientist; "theoretical physics", my ass), and played very well off of Geordi. The Troi/Aaron scenes still scream "we are totally unnecessary!" to me, and the bind the Enterprise finds itself in at the end is still nicely done. On the other hand, the "the Prime Directive doesn't apply; they're human" rankles a lot more than it did before; would these people PLEASE get straight just what the PD is and what it applies to? (I still have the rudiments of a story in mind for that, come to think of it...) Call it a 7.

"Conundrum" Initial rating: 10.

This isn't going anywhere. It's still a terrific "fish out of water" story, and the only complaints I've heard are all plausibility-based rather than plot-based (and I can accept a *lot* more plausibility stretches than plot stupidities). Bits of it are very slightly overplayed, but not nearly enough to cause more than a momentary pang. Well planned and well executed; still a 10.

"Power Play" Initial rating: 7.5.

This one slips. It's a decent ride, a la "Redemption II", but on a repeat viewing it ends up looking really, really shallow. Unfortunately, the bad aspects jump out more on a repeat than the good; the rather poor acting on the part of all three O'Briens (Miles, Keiko, and little, and some of the sizable plot problems. (It didn't help that this came right off of "Conundrum", which was much tighter in its planning than this.) On the other hand, Spiner is still terrific here, and Sirtis does a good job overall, especially in the first half. Call this a 6 for a roller-coaster ride.

"Ethics" Initial rating: 5.

That seems about right. Like "New Ground" (only more so), this had a decent premise dully done. Just about all the strength of the show came out of the Bev/Russell interactions; scientific ethics is something that greatly interests me, and this seemed very well done. The rest of the good bits all sit pretty much in the two Worf/Riker scenes; that seemed real friendship. But Troi, with only about half a scene's exception, is window dressing with a lot of lines, and Alexander's presence is positively galling. And then, of course, that awful, awful, *awful* ending in the surgery. We were not supposed to laugh at that, and I couldn't stop. Still, the Bev/Russell stuff is strong enough that this stays a 5.

"The Outcast" Initial rating: 3.

Again, this seems fairly close to the mark. It gets a few points for good intentions; this show's heart was really in the right place. But between the inclusion of every plot contrivance in the book, some very dull direction, and some outright MIScharacterization (Worf in particular, but Riker to some extent), this suffered a lot. And additionally, in making the *explicit* point about gender intolerance, this show contained so much *implicit* sexism and discrimination as to feel extraordinarily hypocritical. I still hate to speak so ill of something so well intended, but it is what it is; and what it is is a very bad show. 2.5.

"Cause and Effect" Initial rating: 10.

Whew! Here's one I'm happy to say slipped not a bit for me. It's still one of the best "variations on a theme" stories I've seen in a long, long while, and is superbly written (and especially directed, in this case!) on all sides. This makes the third spot on the top five of the season, and falls on the short list of "TNG Episodes I'd Like to have Written." Great effects, great concept, great characterization (both incidental and crucial), and great *imagery* [the glass breaking], something TNG doesn't always do much with. 10, now and ever.

"The First Duty" Initial rating: 9.

This one came up. Yes, Satelk is distracting and badly done; but on a repeat viewing, he seems much less consequential, and the rest of the characterization is bloody *brilliant*. Locarno is still very interesting, as basically a Kirk-figure a few steps over the line; Boothby is still a treat; and the Picard/Wes conversation in Picard's ready room is still one of the single most tension-ridden character scenes this show has ever assembled. (And, of course, the fact that this was written by a fellow Cornellian doesn't hurt either. ;-) ) 10.

"Cost of Living" Initial rating: 1.

I shouldn't have bothered. Nothing seemed any better, and some of it seemed worse. Alexander is *still* back where he was at the beginning of "New Ground" in terms of character, Lwaxana is still stages beyond her most unpleasant, Worf is *still* continuing the hideous trend of being an utter laughingstock, and the holodeck sequence is *still* insulting to anyone over the age of about five. I've been told, indirectly, by a member of the staff that "in production, this didn't look that bad." I still have to wonder who approved this. Ugh. 1.

"The Perfect Mate" Initial rating: 6.5.

This comes up a little bit. The problems are still there (the Ferengi, mainly, and the very early Kamala-as-sexpot scenes), but again seem less consequential on a repeat viewing. (Drop those Ferengi down a deep dark hole, though; and no, "Deep Space 9" does not qualify as such.) Again, just as soon as she starts taking an interest in Picard, the episode picks up like lightning hit it, and stays there for the rest of the hour. There are interesting questions raised about being a metamorph (that are only partially answered), and some intriguing use of mirrors for imagery here, too. I'd give this one an 8.

"Imaginary Friend" Initial rating: 4.

This isn't going to move much. Both Troi and Clara were well written a somewhat well played (particularly Clara), but Isabella was in the absolute bottom tier of TNG actors, and the plot had basically nothing to speak of. (And that closing speech by Picard is one I could definitely have done without.) Not a winner here, folks. 4.

"I, Borg" Initial rating: 9.5.

This is likely to stay where it is. I still find Guinan's conversion over from extreme anti-Borg to somewhat pro-Hugh a little fast for my tastes, but as before, seeing the normally positive characters of Picard and Guinan show this dark a dark side makes up for that in almost every way. Superb work on the part of almost all involved, particularly Stewart, Goldberg, and Jonathan Del Arco. Very, very nice. 10.

"The Next Phase" Initial rating: 7.5.

Again, this seems pretty accurate, though this might slip slightly. Many of the character bits here were nice (Ro's and Data's, in particular), and there's some nice eeriness when Ro first finds out her condition. On the other hand, this one has plot and plausiblity problems from here halfway to Neptune, and this continues the post-Sela trend of making Romulans utterly faceless and dull villains. (Please, bring back Tomalak; *anything* on the level of "The Defector" would be wonderful.) Basically, this is pure fluff, but it's fun fluff. 7.

"The Inner Light" Initial rating: 10.

Simple. Beautiful. Quiet. Superb. 10.

"Time's Arrow" Initial rating: 8.

Now, what was that I was saying about 45-minute prologues? :-) This still has a start that's a little too slow for me, and the Riker/Troi/Data scene in the turbolift is a waste, but other than that things are brisk; and the extra bits of cleverness we've all discovered since (e.g. Jack "I'm the bellboy, gotta love me!" London) impressed me a lot. Call it a 9.

So, if we were to take this solely as the sum of its parts, we'd have an average for the season of just marginally under a 7. That feels somewhat right, I suppose, but it doesn't give a hint as to the real situation. So...

General Comments: | ------------------+

This season in general, and especially the latter half, was an incredibly *uneven* season. I'd heard occasional comments about how TNG had settled into "formula"; based on what I've seen, I can't agree. If it were formula, it would be likely to be consistently watchable but uninspired. Now, that may be about what it *averaged* out to, but it by no means describes the season as a whole.

I mean, for example, I'm looking at my ratings from "Ethics" onward: we had in rapid succession: 5, 2.5, 10, 10, 1, 8, 4, 10, 7, 10, 9. That's not formula, that's a mountain road. :-) Sheesh.

I suppose one of the best things to do in a situation like this is point out good and bad *trends* in the season, rather than anything more concrete. So:

Two of the trends (mainly, the two distressing ones) are ones I've already alluded to in the first part of this review. The first is Worf: This season has seen, in my opinion, the slow destruction of everything that made Worf interesting from seasons 1-4. I'm trying to compare the Worf I saw in "Sins of the Father" and "Reunion" to the Worf I see in "New Ground" and "Cost of Living", and I absolutely cannot see them as the same character in the slightest. The old Worf was confident in his abilities, a bit rigid in his attitudes, full of original thought when he gave it a try ("The Emissary"), and an interesting balance of instinct and honor ("Reunion", mostly). This one is Bozo the Father; ultra-rigid, yelling at the drop of a hat, utterly clueless in a great many situations, and mostly spouting platitudes. Why? What happened?

The other bad trend is much less important, given its occurrence: the Romulans. The Romulans we saw in seasons 2-4 were interesting: distinctly individual, bright, scheming folk that were usually very interesting to watch. Now, the only one with *any* personality is Sela, and that's due to origins I find abhorrent. All the others are faceless, for all we can tell; the plots are a little more obvious, a lot less subtle, and a lot less motivated. It's a pity, but since they don't get used that often anyway, it's not a huge problem.

Now, on the other hand, there are some good trends. One of them is a trend towards more "dark" endings to shows. TNG is often accused of being very "sweetness-and-light", and to some extent that's justified and expected, owing to the underlying ideals. But the lesson seems to finally be hitting home that an optimistic future does not *have* to mean an optimistic ending. "Silicon Avatar", "A Matter of Time", "Darmok", "Violations", "The Masterpiece Society", "Ethics", "The Outcast", "The First Duty", "The Perfect Mate": all of these had, to some extent or another, very bleak elements to their conclusions. And *most* of them ended up as stronger stories as a result. There's nothing that says a bad ending is better than a good one (after all, look at "The Inner Light", which I would say had a rather poignant ending, but not a dark one), but having a story without any sacrifice tends to be less interesting to me; and in just about every case above, even if I disliked the show I had a little bit of respect for the ending. This is a trend I'd like to see continue.

The other, equally interesting trend that I see came in during the season's second half. TNG is finally, *finally*, starting to show a willingness to play with its success, and do some experimentation. Look at some of the shows we had since about March:

--"Cause and Effect". Time travel is nothing new, but this type of it *certainly* is; and the idea of assembling an entire show over what can almost be described as the same events through slightly different viewpoints is almost unique. (Okay, "A Matter of Perspective" tried, but that was internal; everyone there knew that's what was happening. They didn't here.)

--"The First Duty". A show set entirely on Earth? At the *Academy*? Wes screwing up in a major, major way, and *paying* for it? Picard and Wes at each others' throats in a real way (as opposed to early first season)? This is new throughout.

--"Cost of Living." I can only assume this was an experiment. I've no idea what in. :-)

--"I, Borg". Taking this approach to the Borg is a real risk (as the anguished reactions from some people expecting nonstop action demonstrates). But it's also an important step in keeping them viable, and it paid off.

--"The Inner Light". There's almost nothing about this one that ISN'T experimental from a TNG standpoint.

That's a lot of experimentation for a three-month period. I like it.

This is also something I'd very much like to see continue...but with a caveat. In the past, it's looked like TNG was going experimental, but it seemed to fade. The reason, I think, was that the show failed to show the courage of its convictions. The utter lack of fallout from BOBW1 and from, for example, "The Mind's Eye", is a major disappointment.

Now, there are new challenges and new items around. *Do something* with them. Don't let them drop by the wayside. Let's see, or at the very least hear about, what Wes has now gotten himself into with this repeated year. Let's see what impact "I, Borg" has, both on the Borg themselves and on Picard's future attitude (whether his hope succeeds or fails). And for heaven's sake, Picard *MUST* show the signs of his experiences in "The Inner Light". Consistently, and significantly. I cannot overemphasize that.

I think that's close to it, but a few quick lists.

Characters worth seeing more of: Picard, Data, Worf (if this trend is reversed), Beverly (esp. with Wes), Wesley, Troi (another trend; much of this season she's actually been good, for a change).

Characters worth seeing less of: Alexander. Lwaxana Troi. Worf (if this trend continues).

Directors who should be given more work:

--Rob Bowman. Come on, he hasn't been used in almost two seasons, and he's still the best director of the crop. Where *is* he?

--Jonathan Frakes. Even if it means less time in front of the camera, he's a far better director anyway.

--Peter Lauritson. Anyone who comes out with a rookie effort as good as "The Inner Light" is a jewel that should not be let go of.

--Patrick Stewart. Just to see what happens.

Directors who should be given less work:

--Gabrielle Beaumont. We've got "The Bonding", "Disaster", and "Imaginary Friend". All rather uninspiredly done, in my view.

--Chip Chalmers. "Ethics" was not a good idea, and it's added to such credits as "Captain's Holiday" and "The Loss".

Writers who should be given more work:

--Brannon Braga. The plots are not always the best ("Power Play", "The Game", and "Imaginary Friend", for instance), but Braga seems to have the best ear for good character dialogue of all the staff writers. Combine that with more plots on the level of "Cause and Effect" and we're in business.

--Naren Shankar. I know he's not a staff writer. Get him. "The First Duty" was a superb first outing.

--Morgan Gendel. Same applies, except in this case it's "The Inner Light".

--Rene Echevarria. She helped on "The Perfect Mate" and wrote "I, Borg". Sounds promising to me, particularly when you add in past credits like "The Offspring".

Writers who should be given less work:

--Peter Allan Fields. "Cost of Living". 'nuff said.

--Sara and Stuart Charno. I'm sorry, but when one team is responsible for both "New Ground" *and* "Ethics", it's a bad sign.

Well, that seems to be more than long-winded enough for a single season. (Wait 'til the show as a *whole* comes to a close! :-) ) It's been an interesting season; onwards to the future!

Tim Lynch BITNET: tlynch@citjuliet INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "Seize the time, Meribor. Live now; make *now* always the most precious time. Now will never come again." --"The Inner Light" -- Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

Paramount Pictures Andrew Tong

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